It’s difficult to believe, but today is kind of slow news day, compared to most of the days we’ve lived through in the past four years. Naturally, what news there is today is mostly awful.
The story getting the most attention right now is the bomb blast in Nashville. Here’s the latest:
Nashville police officers were first called to a report of shots fired, police said. There was no evidence of shots fired, but “there were announcements coming” from an RV saying a potential bomb would detonate within 15 minutes, police said.
The recording only began playing a short time after police reported to the scene, a law enforcement official told ABC News.
Officers were working to evacuate nearby buildings when, around 6:30 a.m., the RV exploded, blowing out the windows of nearby buildings.
Human remains have been found at the scene of the explosion in downtown Nashville, multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News.
The remains have not been identified and it’s unclear whether they’re identifiable.
“We found tissue that we believe could be human remains,” Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at a press conference Friday evening. “We’ll have that examined and we’ll be able to tell you from that point.”
A woman’s voice warned downtown residents to evacuate before the Christmas morning explosion that rocked Nashville, according to witness who described hearing the chilling message before fleeing with her family.
Betsy Williams, who owns the Melting Pot building on Second Avenue, lived in a loft apartment on the third floor of the building near the center of the blast.
Williams said she left the area after she heard the recording play a countdown to the explosion.
At least three people were injured in the explosion, according to authorities. A police officer in the area, who was responding to reports of suspicious activity in the area, was knocked to the ground by the blast.
Police said the explosion came from an RV that was parked on Second Avenue, in the midst of a business and entertainment district. Police spokesman Don Aaron confirmed the warning came from the RV.
The blast sent black smoke and flames billowing from the heart of downtown Nashville’s tourist scene, an area packed with honky-tonks, restaurants and shops. Buildings shook and windows shattered streets away from the explosion near a building owned by AT&T that lies one block from the company’s office tower, a landmark in downtown.
“We do not know if that was a coincidence, or if that was the intention,” police spokesman Don Aaron said. He said earlier that some people were taken to the department’s central precinct for questioning but declined to give details.
AT&T said the affected building is the central office of a telephone exchange, with network equipment in it. The blast interrupted service, but the company declined to say how widespread outages were.
The AT&T outages site showed service issues in middle Tennessee and Kentucky. Several police agencies reported that their 911 systems were down because of the outage, including Knox County, home to Knoxville about 180 miles (290 kilometers) east of Nashville.
AT&T said that it was bringing in portable cell sites and was working with law enforcement to get access to make repairs to its equipment. The company noted that “power is essential to restoring” service.
The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights out of Nashville International Airport because of telecommunications issues associated with the explosion. Later Friday, the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority said most flights were resuming but advised passengers to check with their airline for updates due to possible delays.
The FBI will be taking the lead in the investigation, agency spokesman Joel Siskovic said. Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also on the scene. The FBI is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for investigating federal crimes, such as explosives violations and acts of terrorism.
Trump is busy shirking his responsibilities, playing golf and tweeting as Americans die or go hungry and jobless, while facing evictions.
Expanded unemployment benefits were set to lapse for millions of struggling Americans on Saturday, a day after President Trump expressed more criticism of a $900 billion pandemic relief bill that was awaiting his signature and would extend them.
The sprawling economic relief package that Congress passed with overwhelming bipartisan support would extend the amount of time that people can collect unemployment benefits until March and revive supplemental unemployment benefits for millions of Americans at $300 a week on top of the usual state benefit.
If Mr. Trump signs the bill on Saturday, states will still need time to reprogram their computer systems to account for the new law, according to Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Project, but unemployed workers would still be able to claim the benefits.
Further delays could prove more costly. States cannot pay out benefits for weeks that begin before the bill is signed, meaning that if the president does not sign the bill by Saturday, benefits will not restart until the first week of January. But they will still end in mid-March, effectively trimming the extension to 10 weeks from 11.
Mr. Trump blindsided lawmakers on Tuesday when he hinted he may veto the measure, which he decided at the last minute was unsatisfactory. The most pressing issue prompted by the president’s delay was the fate of unemployment benefits. At least a temporary lapse in those benefits is now inevitable.
The country is also facing a looming government shutdown on Tuesday and the expiration of a moratorium on evictions at the end of the year because of the president’s refusal to sign the bill.
Here’s what Trump is stewing about at the moment. Raw Story: Trump buried for whining Melania didn’t get enough fashion magazine covers — as he sits on COVID aid bill.
With all that is going on in the U.S. during Christmas week — COVID-19 infections on the rise, a desperately needed COVID-related aid package being held hostage by the president, extended unemployment insurance about to run out, families facing evictions — Donald Trump took time out from his busy holiday vacation at Mar-a-Lago to complain that his wife Melania didn’t get fashion magazine cover stories he feels she deserves.
Linking to a tweet from right-wing Breitbart, that read, “The elitist snobs in the fashion press have kept the most elegant First Lady in American history off the covers of their magazines for 4 consecutive years,” the preside t added “The greatest of all time” by which he presumably meant the first lady, before adding the requisite “Fake news!”
Commenters who were already criticizing the president for two days of golfing while they hunker down in their homes over fears of the spreading pandemic, piled on the president for his bizarre sense of priorities.
Maybe it’s because Melania is ugly inside and out? Click the link to read sample tweets.
Trump is also planning to try to pardon himself and push for inappropriate investigations, according to The Guardian:
William Barr’s abrupt move to leave his post as attorney general this week has spurred fears among Department of Justice veterans that Donald Trump will put new pressures on Barr’s successor to do him big and potentially risky political and legal favors.
Former justice department officials say they are worried Trump will lean on Barr’s less experienced successor, the acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, to push policies which Trump has suggested he backs, including naming special counsels to investigate President-elect Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and using the DoJ to investigate Trump’s baseless charges of widespread election fraud.
Critics also fear Rosen could face pressure from Trump to help obtain a legal opinion that would allow Trump to pardon himself by reversing a justice department opinion that dates back to the Nixon era and bars a presidential self-pardon. Such a move would probably trigger widespread outrage.
Mounting concerns that Trump will try to squeeze favors from Rosen, who became Barr’s deputy AG in early 2019 without previous DoJ experience, stem partly from Trump’s post-election anger at Barr, despite being arguably his strongest cabinet ally in the run-up to the November election.
And what if Trump tries to stay in the White House after Biden’s inauguration? Eric Lutz at Vanity Fair: No One Knows How to Get Trump to Leave the White House in January.
Donald Trump was soundly defeated by Joe Biden, his efforts to overturn the results have been wildly unsuccessful, and the electoral college has made his loss official. In two weeks, lawmakers will meet to certify Biden’s win—and a longshot challenge Trump’s allies in the House are planning is unlikely to stop the inevitable. Constitutionally and legally, Trump will have no constitutional or legal claim to the White House.
But what if, after all that, he just…refuses to leave? What if he refuses to pack his shit and go back to Mar-a-Lago? What if he chains himself to the Resolute Desk? That prospect may sound comically outlandish, and is indeed unlikely to come to pass. But it’s hardly as far-fetched as it might seem, as Trump refuses to concede and continues to insist he won last month’s election in a “landslide.” In fact, he has actually raised the idea with aides recently, as CNN reported. And while few advisers think he’ll actually go through with it, no one really knows what would happen if he does try to overstay his welcome.
According to the Daily Beast on Wednesday, the Secret Service isn’t so sure what it would do, either. One former agent suggested he’d get dragged out like any other civilian would be if they were in the Oval Office unauthorized. “I guess by law he would be a trespasser,” the former agent told the outlet. “We’d have to escort him out.” But the Secret Service and the military may be reluctant to take part in what would be such a dramatic scene, and could take more subtle action, like pressing his inner circle or Republican officials and family members to make him leave. “The Service and the military would just not want to get involved,” another former official said. “It’s not our role.” It could also simply do the equivalent of changing the locks: “When the staff leaves on January 19, don’t let them back into the complex the next day,” an ex-agent said. “He can’t do anything without his staff.”
Again, this is all (thankfully) hypothetical at this point, and the chances of it becoming more than that are still likely remote. But it’s hard to avoid engaging with the prospect as Trump goes to greater and greater lengths in his effort to remain in power, even though a record number of American voters told him to get lost and the electoral college formalized his loss. “It’s scary,” an administration official told CNN.
More at the link.
A few more reads to check out:
Ed Pilkington at The Guardian: How real is the threat of prosecution for Donald Trump post-presidency?
The Daily Beast: Three Paths This Coronavirus Nightmare Could Take.
The New York Times: One Vaccine Side Effect: Global Economic Inequality.
The New York Times: A ‘Great Cultural Depression’ Looms for Legions of Unemployed Performers
That’s all I have for you today. I hope you had a nice, relaxing day yesterday. Take care and stay safe!
Former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats spoke out about Trump in Bob Woodward’s new book Rage; now he’s authored an op-ed in The Washington Post about the 2020 election: What’s at Stake in This Election? The American Democratic Experiment.
We hear often that the November election is the most consequential in our lifetime. But the importance of the election is not just which candidate or which party wins. Voters also face the question of whether the American democratic experiment, one of the boldest political innovations in human history, will survive.
Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace.
If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome. Total destruction and sowing salt in the earth of American democracy is a catastrophe well beyond simple defeat and a poison for generations. An electoral victory on these terms would be no victory at all. The judgment of history, reflecting on the death of enlightened democracy, would be harsh.
The most urgent task American leaders face is to ensure that the election’s results are accepted as legitimate. Electoral legitimacy is the essential linchpin of our entire political culture. We should see the challenge clearly in advance and take immediate action to respond.
Coats argues that Congress should form a bipartisan commission to protect voting and ensure that Americans will see the results of the election as legitimate. Unfortunately, there’s almost no chance that Congressional Republicans would go along with such a project. They clearly support Trump’s goal of a “rigged” election.
At Vanity Fair, Chris Smith reports on Joe Biden’s preparations for dealing with election interference by Trump and his personal attorney Bill Barr: “We’re Not Going To Let Donald Trump Steal This Election”: Democrats Are Strategizing For All-Out Warfare.
Donald Trump, true to form, is stoking chaos, trying to undermine faith in the accuracy of November’s election. He has floated stationing armed guards at the 2020 polls and maintained a steady stream of lies about “rigged” mail-in ballots. Joe Biden’s counteroffensive is shaping up to be equally in character: It relies on his trust in rational process and in projecting calm. It’s a strategy that makes a great deal of sense—and also feels quaint considering Trump’s evil genius for asymmetrical warfare.
Biden has solicited the help of two former solicitors general, one former attorney general, and a small army of attorneys, building up its own law firm to beat back Trump’s attempts at voter suppression both before and after Election Day. Those lawyers are assisting in the legal battles already playing out in courts across the country that will shape the rules about whose votes get counted—in the words of Democratic strategist Brian Fallon, the “mini Bush v. Gores.” The lawyers and the vast voter-protection program being rolled out by the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee are designed to do two things: ensure that all legitimate votes are counted, and bolster Democratic turnout by raising confidence that their votes will be counted. Biden’s second tactic is more subtle, and riskier: By not engaging directly and loudly with Trump’s claims of rampant fraud, Team Biden believes it will reduce the potency of the president’s frenetic disinformation.
We’ll see. We all remember how the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush in 2000.
When Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor and a cofounder of the Transition Integrity Project, brought together dozens of party veterans, pollsters, and media players to simulate outcomes, only one scenario—a Biden landslide—led to a fairly orderly transfer of power. The rest devolved into a constitutional crisis mixed with street violence. “The Democratic elites, God bless them, have had a lot of faith, historically, in institutions and the law,” Brooks says. “But our exercises underscored the tremendous advantage the first mover has in a disputed election, and the tremendous structural advantage of incumbency….The president can have Bill Barr initiate a politically motivated investigation. And I think we can expect all kinds of efforts, legal and extralegal, to stop the counting and to challenge mail-in ballots.”
The Biden campaign and the DNC certainly see all the potential for Trumpian mischief—and Ron Klain, one of Biden’s longtime senior advisers, was a senior adviser to Gore in 2000. So the campaign has constructed “the largest election-protection program in presidential campaign history,” a Biden strategist says. Biden allies have met with major media executives, urging them to be cautious in calling states on election night when millions of mail-in ballots will have yet to be processed. Another hopeful sign is that the Biden campaign is leaning on the expertise of Stacey Abrams and Lauren Groh-Wargo, who managed Abrams’s 2018 run for Georgia governor and now runs Fair Fight, the group Abrams founded to push for, well, fairness in elections.
Read the whole thing at Vanity Fair.
Meanwhile, Bill Barr has come out as a full-on fascist. He seems to be working overtime to out-Trump Trump. Remember how Barr helped clear Lafayette Square so that Trump could have a photo-op with a bible? The Washington Post reveals more details about that episode: Federal officials stockpiled munitions, sought ‘heat ray’ device before clearing Lafayette Square, whistleblower says.
Hours before law enforcement forcibly cleared protesters from Lafayette Square in early June amid protests over the police killing of George Floyd, federal officials began to stockpile ammunition and sces that could emit deafening sounds and make anyone within range feel like their skin is on fire, according to an Army National Guard major who was there.
D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam D. DeMarco told lawmakers that defense officials were searching for crowd control technology deemed too unpredictable to use in war zones and had authorized the transfer of about 7,000 rounds of ammunition to the D.C. Armory as protests against police use of force and racial injustice roiled Washington.
In sworn testimony, shared this week with The Washington Post, DeMarco provided his account as part of an ongoing investigation into law enforcement and military officers’ use of force against D.C. protesters….
DeMarco’s account contradicts the administration’s claims that protesters were violent, tear gas was never used and demonstrators were given ample warning to disperse — a legal requirement before police move to clear a crowd. His testimony also offers a glimpse into the equipment and weaponry federal forces had — and others that they sought — during the early days of protests that have continued for more than 100 days in the nation’s capital.
DeMarco, who provided his account as a whistleblower, was the senior-most D.C. National Guard officer on the ground that day and served as a liaison between the National Guard and U.S. Park Police.
[Emphasis added.] Recall that Barr was seen inspecting the protests before officers attacked the crowd. Now Barr wants to charge protesters with trying to overthrow the government and actually suggested criminally charging the mayor of Seattle. The New York Times: Barr Told Prosecutors to Consider Sedition Charges for Protest Violence.
Attorney General William P. Barr told federal prosecutors in a call last week that they should consider charging rioters and others who had committed violent crimes at protests in recent months with sedition, according to two people familiar with the call.
The highly unusual suggestion to charge people with insurrection against lawful authority alarmed some on the call, which included U.S. attorneys around the country, said the people, who described Mr. Barr’s comments on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
The attorney general has also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing some residents to establish a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown for weeks this summer, according to two people briefed on those discussions. Late Wednesday, a department spokesman said that Mr. Barr did not direct the civil rights division to explore this idea….
During a speech on Wednesday night, Mr. Barr noted that the Supreme Court had determined that the executive branch had “virtually unchecked discretion” in deciding whether to prosecute cases. He did not mention Ms. Durkan or the sedition statute.
“The power to execute and enforce the law is an executive function altogether,” Mr. Barr said in remarks at an event in suburban Washington celebrating the Constitution. “That means discretion is invested in the executive to determine when to exercise the prosecutorial power.”
More stories on Bill Barr’s latest crazy rantings:
Steve Benen at MSNBC: AG Bill Barr’s election deceptions go from bad to worse.
The Washington Post: Barr accuses Justice Department of headhunting and meddling with politics.
A couple more related stories:
Neal Kaytal and Joshua Geltzer at The New York Times: This Is How Bad It’s Gotten at the Justice Department.
In his time as the head of the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr has alienated many federal prosecutors. The latest appears to be Nora Dannehy, a longtime prosecutor who has resigned from the department, where she was part of a team looking into the Russia investigation.
We don’t know for sure exactly what happened; she isn’t talking, nor is Mr. Barr. But The Hartford Courant, which broke the story, reported that Ms. Dannehy’s colleagues said that she departed because of Mr. Barr’s politicization — in particular, because Mr. Barr is evidently eager to break drastically with past practice and issue an incomplete report intended to help President Trump in his re-election efforts.
Her resignation looks like part of an extremely troubling pattern. Earlier this year, highly respected prosecutors in the Michael Flynn and Roger Stone cases dramatically resigned or withdrew. One of them testified to Congress that the Justice Department under Mr. Barr was treating Mr. Stone “differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president.” The Justice Department inspector general has opened an investigation.
When civil servants resign, skeptics often ask what difference one person really can make by leaving. The answer is simple: a lot. Ms. Dannehy’s departure isn’t just likely a major assertion of integrity by her; it’s also a big problem for Mr. Barr — and therefore for Mr. Trump.
Head over to the NYT to read the rest.
Julia Davis at The Daily Beast: Russian Media Is Rooting for Civil War in America: ‘The Worse, the Better.’
State-controlled media’s slant is a telling indicator of the Kremlin’s leanings. To imagine the relationship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his massive media apparatus, one may reference the coziness between Sean Hannity and Trump—and magnify that intensity tenfold, with directives flowing only from the top down. Obsessed with retaining his dominance and fully realizing the power of propaganda, Putin leaves nothing to chance….
Russian lawmakers, state media experts and pundits on tightly-choreographed TV shows openly reveal that the Kremlin is still rooting for Trump. But Moscow has a growing concern that this time around, their preferred candidate might lose. Appearing on a state TV show The Right To Know, Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of the Kremlin-funded propaganda networks RT and Sputnik, said about Trump’s chances of re-election: “I think Trump will lose, but then I think there will be a major blow-up from the standpoint of accepting or not accepting the outcome of the election. They’ll be battling over that for a long time, who knows how it might end.”
Having openly wished for Trump to drive the United States into civil war, Russian state media figures are now relishing that idea with renewed enthusiasm. They believe it would destabilize America to such an extent as to undermine its very sovereignty, thereby untying the Kremlin’s hands to wreak even more havoc upon the Western world. Appearing on Russia’s state TV show The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev, analyst Dmitry Drobnitsky explained his belief that U.S. elections “can be considered America’s internal affairs only up to the point when an actual civil war starts there.” The idea of a coup d’état seems all but inevitable, Drobnitsky argued: “The loser in this election would be an idiot to accept the outcome.”
Russian state media repeatedly echoed Trump, who is doing the Kremlin’s bidding by attacking the legitimacy of the 2020 elections, falsely suggesting that mail-in voting is completely fraudulent, and that Democrats are rigging the process to falsify the outcome. There is no doubt that the Kremlin would align with Trump in case of a contested election, as the groundwork for accusing the Democrats of fraud has been laid in advance.
Russian state media analysts also make no secret as to the Kremlin’s preferred candidate. Writing for the newspaper Kommersant, Dmitry Kosyrev, political columnist for state media outlet RIA Novosti, pondered: “Is Trump ours?” This popular refrain can be interpreted in one of several ways: to signify Russia’s hold over the American president, to express that Trump’s position is in perfect alignment with that of the Kremlin—meaning, “he is on our side”—or to signal Russia’s preference: “He is the one we choose.”
Things are getting really scary. Unbelievably, this year’s election will likely be much worse than 2016. I don’t know what more to say. I guess we just have to take it one day at a time, and hope that Biden and the Democrats have the guts to stand up for democracy.
Take care, Sky Dancers!
The movement inspired by the murder of George Floyd has inspired more than the Black Lives Matter protests. People are toppling statues now, and not just the ones of confederate traitors.
Someone beheaded the Christopher Columbus statue in Boston’s North End yesterday. (The North End used to be Boston’s “little Italy.”) WBZ (CBS) Boston: Beheaded Christopher Columbus Statue In Boston Will Be Removed From North End Park.
The Christopher Columbus statue in Boston’s North End will be removed after it was beheaded early Wednesday morning. Mayor Marty Walsh said it will be put in storage and there will now be conversations about the “historic meaning” of the incident and whether it will ever go back up.
The statue in Christopher Columbus Park on Atlantic Avenue was surrounded by crime scene tape as the head lay on the ground next to the base.
Now, as police investigate how it happened, local indigenous groups are calling on the mayor to remove the statue for good.
“It’s a park dedicated to white supremacy,” said Mahtowin Munro of the United American Indians of New England. “It’s a park dedicated to indigenous genocide.” [….]
The head was also cut off back in 2006. The statue was doused with red paint in June 2015 with the words “Black Lives Matter” spray-painted on the base.
Another statue of Columbus was taken down at Minnesota’s state capitol in St. Paul. Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Protesters topple Columbus statue on Minnesota Capitol grounds.
Protesters lassoed a statue of Christopher Columbus outside the State Capitol Wednesday afternoon and pulled it to the ground, saying their action was a step toward healing for Indian communities.
Dozens of people gathered by the statue on the grounds outside the Capitol before pulling it down. American Indian Movement activist Mike Forcia talked to a State Patrol captain sent to the scene to encourage protesters to follow a legal process for removing the statue, which has stood on the Capitol grounds since 1931. Forcia said they had tried that route many times and it had not worked.
The protesters then looped a rope around the statue and quickly pulled it off the stone pedestal and to the ground. The patrol officer watched from a distance as protesters sang and took photos with the statue for about half an hour.
State officials said they had been warned about the action via social media. It was mentioned at a news conference an hour and a half earlier with Gov. Tim Walz. Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said then that the patrol would meet the protesters and seek an alternative resolution.
Two other stories of note on the topic of racism and Black Lives Matter protests:
Associated Press: Pope sends strong message to US Catholics after Floyd death.
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis called George Floyd by name, twice, and offered support to an American bishop who knelt in prayer during a Black Lives Matter protest.
Cardinals black and white have spoken out about Floyd’s death, and the Vatican’s communications juggernaut has shifted into overdrive to draw attention to the cause he now represents.
Under normal circumstances, Floyd’s killing at the hands of a white police officer and the global protests denouncing racism and police brutality might have drawn a muted diplomatic response from the Holy See. But in a U.S. election year, the intensity and consistency of the Vatican’s reaction suggests that, from the pope on down, it is seeking to encourage anti-racism protesters while making a clear statement about where American Catholics should stand ahead of President Donald Trump’s bid for a second term in November….
Last week, Francis denounced the “sin of racism” and twice identified Floyd as the victim of a “tragic” killing. In a message read in Italian and English during his general audience, Francis expressed concerns about violence during the protests, saying it was self-destructive.
Read more at the link.
Kennedy Mitchum wasn’t expecting much when she emailed Merriam-Webster last month, but she wanted to let the dictionary publisher know that she thought its definition of the word racism was inadequate.
So she was surprised when an editor responded and even more surprised that the company agreed to update the entry.
Mitchum has gotten into a lot conversations about racism and injustice where people have pointed to the dictionary to prove that they’re not racist. It’s happened a lot more lately as the world reacts to the death of George Floyd while in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers….
“I kept having to tell them that definition is not representative of what is actually happening in the world,” she told CNN. “The way that racism occurs in real life is not just prejudice it’s the systemic racism that is happening for a lot of black Americans.”
Merriam-Webster’s first definition of racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” [….]
Mitchum said she sent her email on a Thursday night and got a reply from editor Alex Chambers the next morning.
After a few emails, Chambers agreed that the entry should be updated and said a new definition is being drafted.
“This revision would not have been made without your persistence in contacting us about this problem,” Chambers said in the email, which was provided to CNN. “We sincerely thank you for repeatedly writing in and apologize for the harm and offense we have caused in failing to address this issue sooner.”
Meanwhile, a backlash against Trump and his pet AG Bill Barr is building over the violent clearing of Lafayette Square to facilitation Trump’s ludicrous Bible photo op last week.
Tom McCarthy at The Guardian: ‘An abuse of power’: alarm grows over top Trump lieutenant’s military masquerade.
…[T]he top law enforcement official in the country, the attorney general, William Barr, is facing an internal crisis of confidence and growing calls for his own resignation.
Barr stands accused of directing violence against peaceful demonstrators outside the White House earlier this month, and with peddling a conspiracy theory advanced by Donald Trump in an attempt to smear protesters, who enjoy wide public support.
In the first 16 months of his tenure, Barr caught criticism for compromising justice department independence with his seemingly lockstep defense of Trump, whether he was protecting the president from the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller or intervening in criminal cases against the former Trump aides Michael Flynn and Roger Stone.
But Barr’s critics now fear that he has taken a new step, of trying on a military hat as the president’s top lieutenant in the antagonistic posture the White House has taken against street protests that have sprung up after the killing of George Floyd, an African American man, in Minneapolis by white police officers.
A bit more:
The attorney general’s denial at the weekend that systemic racism was a problem in US law enforcement prompted new calls for his resignation.
“I think there’s racism in the United States still, but I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist,” Barr told CBS News’ Face the Nation. “And I would say, you know, the president, before any of this happened, was out in front on this issue.”
On no planet has Trump been “out in front” in the campaign against racist policing, said Kandace Montgomery, director of Black Visions, a Twin Cities-based activist organization.
“William Barr is a white man who is serving a racist administration, so of course he’s going to deny the fact that the current law enforcement system is systemically racist,” Montgomery said.
More than 1,250 former Justice Department workers on Wednesday called on the agency’s internal watchdog to investigate Attorney General William P. Barr’s involvement in law enforcement’s move last week to push a crowd of largely peaceful demonstrators back from Lafayette Square using horses and gas.
In a letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, the group said it was “deeply concerned about the Department’s actions, and those of Attorney General William Barr himself, in response to the nationwide lawful gatherings to protest the systemic racism that has plagued this country throughout its history.”
“In particular, we are disturbed by Attorney General Barr’s possible role in ordering law enforcement personnel to suppress a peaceful domestic protest in Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020, for the purpose of enabling President Trump to walk across the street from the White House and stage a photo op at St. John’s Church, a politically motivated event in which Attorney General Barr participated,” the group wrote.
The group asked Horowitz to “immediately open and conduct an investigation of the full scope of the Attorney General’s and the DOJ’s role” in that and other events.
“The rule of law, the maintenance of the Department’s integrity, and the very safety of our citizens demand nothing less,” the group wrote.
Barr was also publicly excoriated by former Judge John Gleeson for his attempt to drop charges against Michael Flynn. Paul Waldman at The Washington Post: A retired judge’s sharp rebuke of William Barr confirms the worst.
Back in May, long after Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents in their investigation into Russia’s attack on the 2016 election — which got him fired as national security adviser after 24 days on the job — Barr took the extraordinary step of seeking to drop the case against him before he could be sentenced. In response, the judge in the case asked a respected retired judge to make a recommendation about how this highly unusual situation should be handled.
That retired judge, John Gleeson, not only recommended that Flynn be sentenced as planned but issued a scathing report condemning the Justice Department’s actions in the case:
In his argument, Gleeson said the government’s “ostensible grounds” for seeking dismissal were “conclusively disproven” by its own earlier briefs; contradict the court’s prior orders and Justice Department positions taken in other cases; and “are riddled with inexplicable and elementary errors of law and fact.”
A former federal prosecutor and judge for 22 years in Brooklyn — best known for putting the late mob boss John Gotti behind bars and presiding over the trial of “Wolf of Wall Street” stockbroker Jordan Belfort — Gleeson wrote that judges are empowered to protect their court’s integrity “from prosecutors who undertake corrupt, politically motivated dismissals. That is what has happened here. The Government has engaged in highly irregular conduct to benefit a political ally of the President.”
Not only that, Gleeson stated that “Flynn has indeed committed perjury in these proceedings, for which he deserves punishment,” but recommended that instead of a separate prosecution, Flynn’s misdeeds should be taken into account when he is sentenced for the crime he pleaded guilty to.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
Of course there is much more news out there. I’ll add some links in the comment thread and I hope you will too.
The news is full of Jeffrey Epstein stories; I can only hope that this time his victims will finally get justice. Bill Barr has recused himself from the case, but will that keep Trump and the Justice Department he now controls from helping his old pal Epstein?
Trump Has Politicized the DOJ
Sally Yates tried to warn us. Way back in January 2017, at the end of the very first week of the Trump administration, the new president signed an executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. It was a blatantly political act, following months of Trump campaign promises, and it immediately provoked lawsuits challenging the order as religious discrimination. Yates, the acting attorney general, refused to defend the legally indefensible and was summarily fired. “The president is attempting to dismantle the rule of law, destroy the time-honored independence of the Justice Department, and undermine the career men and women who are devoted to seeking justice day in and day out,” Yates wrote in a New York Times op-ed published in July 2017.
Two Julys later, Trump’s politicization of the DOJ is gaining new momentum and depth. The president’s choice of William Barr as attorney general, and Barr’s entirely predictable attempts to undercut the Mueller report, has been the highest-profile, highest-stakes move to weaponize the department for partisan purposes. But two fresh episodes demonstrate Trump’s relentless push to subvert the DOJ, and how far-reaching the damage will be to the rule of law. First came Sarah Fabian, the senior attorney in the DOJ’s Office of Immigration Litigation, telling a California appeals court that it is “safe and sanitary” for jailed immigrant children to go without soap or toothbrushes and to sleep on concrete floors under bright lights. “I actually felt somewhat sorry for her,” a former federal prosecutor says. “You could hear how half-hearted she was in making the point. But there is no way she would have been making that argument at all without it being approved at the highest levels of DOJ….”
The second, ongoing case echoes the events that got Yates fired. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled against adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, after documents from a now deceased Republican consultant’s hard drives were exposed. The census citizenship question, Thomas Hofeller wrote in an analysis, “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” The DOJ announced it would not be fighting the Supreme Court ruling; the Commerce Department announced it would begin printing the census forms without the question in question.
Trump didn’t care. “We are absolutely moving forward,” he declared on Twitter. Which was news to DOJ lawyers, who found themselves fumbling during an emergency conference call with a Maryland district court judge….
After a few more days of confusion, the DOJ said on Friday it would demur from pursuing the case, at least until the Commerce Department “adopts a new rationale for including the citizenship question.” That new spin should arrive very soon. Over the weekend Trump and Barr replaced the DOJ legal team handling the case. Whether the prior group of career lawyers balked at returning to the Supreme Court with a new, possibly untenable argument or whether Barr simply wants fresh minds on the case, the shift was all but unprecedented, and is yet another indication that Trump sees the DOJ as a political tool.
Will Trump find a way to force the DOJ to help Epstein? I think he’s likely to try. Smith concludes:
…it’s hard to imagine Trump won’t try to intercede if the famously independent SDNY—currently back in the headlines for charging billionaire Jeffrey Epstein with sex trafficking—moves to indict one or more of the president’s high-ranking associates. (Epstein has pleaded not guilty.) “The fear is that Trump doesn’t even need to say it out loud anymore, because Barr is so protective of him,” Rocah says. “It would be ridiculously naïve not to be concerned.”
Also recommended from Zoe Tillman at Buzzfeed News: Trump Is Bringing In New Lawyers On The Citizenship Question Case And No One Knows What’s Happening.
Epstein stories to check out
Ken White provides a good backgrounder on the case at The Atlantic: Jeffrey Epstein Is Out of Luck.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, famously aggressive in pursuing high-profile prosecutions, charged Epstein last week with child sex trafficking in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1591. These new charges represent the Department of Justice’s attempt to redeem a reputation soiled by the extremely questionable plea deal it gave Epstein in 2008.
In 2006 and 2007, Epstein— once a reliable companion of the well-connected — faced extensive, detailed allegations that he paid multiple minors for sexual contact and for their services in procuring other minors. Most people, hammered with that kind of evidence, would spend the rest of their lives in prison. But Epstein could afford the lavish attention of a defense team staffed by legal luminaries like Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr. Most of us hope an attorney will defend us competently at trial, but the super-rich can afford to go on the offense. Epstein’s lawyers hounded the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, which was considering federal charges based on reports that Epstein procured underaged girls across state lines. Former U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta – now President Trump’s Secretary of Labor – characterized it as a “year-long assault on the prosecution and prosecutors,” and complained that Epstein’s team investigated prosecutors and their families “looking for personal peccadilloes that may provide a basis for disqualification.”
The strategy worked. Epstein’s team secured the deal of the millennium, one utterly unlike anything I’ve seen in 25 years of practicing federal criminal law. Epstein agreed to plead guilty to state charges, register as a sex offender, and spend 13 months in county jail, during which time he was allowed to spend 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, out of the jail on “work release.” In exchange, the Southern District of Florida abandoned its criminal investigation of Epstein’s conduct, agreed not to prosecute him federally, and – incredibly— agreed not to prosecute anyone else who helped him procure underaged girls for sex. This is not normal; it is astounding.
Read the rest at the link.
Barbara McQuade at New York Magazine: The Jeffrey Epstein Case Shows What Sex Trafficking Really Looks Like.
When jurors hear “sex trafficking,” they conjure up images of victims bound by chains, subjected to physical force and imprisonment. While some cases include those aggravating facts, more often, the victim instead chooses to stay with her assailant, who preys upon a vulnerability. Defendants recruit victims in a variety of ways and then force them to engage in sex acts with them or with paying customers. Jurors are sometimes persuaded that if the defendant was truly engaging in sex trafficking, the victim would have simply run away or called the police.
As a former federal prosecutor, I have seen cases of sex trafficking, and none of those cases involved victims in ropes or chains. More often, the cases involved runaways, undocumented immigrants, or victims of sexual abuse.
A high-profile case like Epstein’s provides a teachable moment for American jurors. The indictment notes that some of his victims returned to his home to perform sex acts for money, even after they knew full well what was in store for them. The indictment also notes that the victims were “for various reasons, particularly vulnerable to exploitation.” That is the secret sauce of sex trafficking….
Sex trafficking is particularly egregious when it involves children, as in Epstein’s case. Children by definition are unable to consent to sex. In Epstein’s case, girls were lured to his home for sex with promises of hundreds of dollars and the prospect of modeling careers — offers that can be head-spinning and irresistible for a young teen.
One of the reasons that we prosecute crimes is to deter others from committing similar acts. By seeing criminals punished for wrongdoing, others learn from their example. Another potential benefit of the Epstein case is to educate the public that not all victims of sex trafficking are found in chains. Here is hoping that jurors will learn from this example.
Read the whole thing at The Intelligencer.
Vicky Ward (who researched and wrote an in-depth piece about Epstein for Vanity Fair in 2003) at The Daily Beast: Jeffrey Epstein’s Sick Story Played Out for Years in Plain Sight.
For almost two decades, for some nebulous reason, whether to do with ties to foreign intelligence, his billions of dollars, or his social connections, Epstein, whose alleged sexual sickness and horrific assaults on women without means or ability to protect themselves is well-known in his circle, remained untouchable.
As many people know, I spent many months on his trail in 2002 for Vanity Fair and discovered not only that he was not who he claimed to be professionally, but also that he had allegedly assaulted two young sisters, one of whom had been underage at the time. Very bravely, they were prepared to go on the record. They were afraid he’d use all his influence to discredit them—and their fear turned out to be legitimate.
As the article was being readied for publication, Epstein made a visit to the office of Vanity Fair’s then-editor, Graydon Carter, and suddenly the women and their allegations were removed from the article. “He’s sensitive about the young women,” Carter told me at the time. He also mentioned he’d finagled a photograph of Epstein in a swimsuit out of the encounter. And there was also some feeble excuse about the article “being stronger as a business story.” (Epstein had also leaned heavily on my ex-husband’s uncle, Conrad Black, to try to exert his influence on me, which was particularly unwelcome, given that Black happened to be my ex-husband’s boss at the time.)
But much worse was to come from Epstein’s army of willfully blind lobbyists. In 2007 and 2008, as the FBI prepared a 53-page indictment that would charge Epstein with sex crimes, Epstein’s powerful legal team played the influence card.
After one meeting with then-U.S. Attorney Acosta, where presumably “intelligence” was mentioned, the indictment was shelved and, instead, Epstein signed a non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors, pleading guilty to one count of solicitation of prostitution and one count of procurement of minors for prostitution, which earned him a cushy 13 months in county jail, from where he was allowed to leave to work at his office and go for walks.
It’s worth reading the whole thing.
More helpful Epstein stories, links only
The New York Times: Seized Photos of Nude Girls Deepens Questions About Jeffrey Epstein’s 2008 Deal.
The Washington Post: Epstein indictment renews questions about earlier case handled by Trump Cabinet official.
Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: Alex Acosta gave a pass to Epstein years ago. He’s still at it as labor secretary.
Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times: Jeffrey Epstein Is the Ultimate Symbol of Plutocratic Rot.
What else is happening? What stories have you been following?